U.S. Geological Survey

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Hydrogeology and Ground-Water Quality of Brunswick County, North Carolina

WRI 03-4051
By Stephen L. Harden, Jason M. Fine, and Timothy B. Spruill

Complete report in PDF (92 pages, 7.8M)
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Brunswick County is the southernmost coastal county in North Carolina and lies in the southeastern part of the Coastal Plain physiographic province. In this report, geologic, hydrologic, and chemical data were used to investigate and delineate the hydrogeologic framework and ground-water quality of Brunswick County. The major aquifers and their associated confining units delineated in the Brunswick County study area include, from youngest to oldest, the surficial, Castle Hayne, Peedee, Black Creek, upper Cape Fear, and lower Cape Fear aquifers.

All of these aquifers, with the exception of the Castle Hayne aquifer, are located throughout Brunswick County. The Castle Hayne aquifer extends across only the southeastern part of the county. Based on available data, the Castle Hayne and Peedee confining units are missing in some areas of Brunswick County, which allows direct hydraulic contact between the surficial aquifer and underlying Castle Hayne or Peedee aquifers. The confining units for the Black Creek, upper Cape Fear, and lower Cape Fear aquifers appear to be continuous throughout Brunswick County.

In examining the conceptual hydrologic system for Brunswick County, a generalized water budget was developed to better understand the natural processes, including precipitation, evapotranspiration, and stream runoff, that influence ground-water recharge to the shallow aquifer system in the county. In the generalized water budget, an estimated 11 inches per year of the average annual precipitation of 55 inches per year in Brunswick County is estimated to infiltrate and recharge the shallow aquifer system. Of the 11 inches per year that recharges the shallow system, about 1 inch per year is estimated to recharge the deeper aquifer system.

The surficial aquifer in Brunswick County is an important source of water for domestic supply and irrigation. The Castle Hayne aquifer is the most productive aquifer and serves as the principal groundwater source of municipal supply for the county. The upper part of the Peedee aquifer is an important source of ground-water supply for domestic and commercial use. Ground water in the lower part of the Peedee aquifer and the underlying aquifers is brackish and is not known to be used as a source of supply in Brunswick County. Most of the precipitation that recharges the surficial aquifer is discharged to local streams that drain into the Waccamaw River, Cape Fear River, and Atlantic Ocean. Recharge to the Castle Hayne aquifer occurs primarily from the surficial aquifer. Recharge to the Peedee aquifer occurs primarily from the surficial and Castle Hayne aquifers, with some upward leakage of water also occurring from the underlying Black Creek aquifer. Discharge from the Castle Hayne and Peedee aquifers occurs to local streams, the Cape Fear River, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Evaluation of water-level data for the period January 1970 through May 2002 indicated no apparent long-term temporal trends in water levels in the surficial and Castle Hayne aquifers and in the upper part of the Peedee aquifer. The most significant waterlevel trends were noted for wells tapping the lower part of the Peedee aquifer and tapping the Black Creek aquifer where water levels have declined as much as 41 and 37 feet, respectively. These ground-water-level declines are attributed to regional ground-water pumping in areas outside of Brunswick County. Waterlevel data for Brunswick County wells tapping the upper Cape Fear and lower Cape Fear aquifers tend to fluctuate within a fairly uniform range with no apparent temporal trend noted. Analysis of vertical hydraulic gradients during this same period primarily indicate downward flow of ground water within and among the surficial, Castle Hayne, and Peedee aquifers. The vertical flow of ground water in the Black Creek aquifer is upward into the overlying Peedee aquifer. Upward flow also is noted for the upper and lower Cape Fear aquifers.

Historic and recent analytical data were evaluated to better understand the sources of water contained in Brunswick County aquifers and the suitability of the water for consumption. Based on analytical results obtained for recent samples collected during this study, ground water from the surficial aquifer, Castle Hayne aquifer, and upper part of the Peedee aquifer appears to be generally suitable for drinking water. Although concentrations of iron and manganese commonly exceeded the drinking-water standards, the concern generally associated with the occurrence of these analytes in a water supply is one of aesthetics. In all samples, nitrate, nitrite, and sulfate were detected at concentrations less than drinkingwater standards.

Based on historic analytical data, the brackish water in the lower part of the Peedee aquifer and in the Black Creek, upper Cape Fear, and lower Cape Fear aquifers is classified as a sodium-chloride type water. The presence of brackish water in these deeper systems combined with upward vertical gradients presents the potential for upward migration of brackish water into overlying aquifers, or upconing beneath areas of pumping. The current (2001) location of the boundary between freshwater and brackish water in Brunswick County aquifers is unknown.

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